Minnesota State Bird – Common Loon – Gavia immer

Great Northern Diver or Loon

State Bird of Minnesota

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


[Common Loon.]

[Gavia immer.]


The Loon, as this interesting species of Diver is generally called inthe United States, is a strong, active, and vigilant bird. When it hasacquired its perfect plumage, which is not altered in colour at any successivemoult, it is really a beautiful creature; and the student of Nature whohas opportunities of observing its habits, cannot fail to derive much pleasurefrom watching it as it pursues its avocations. View it as it buoyantlyswims over the heaving billows of the Atlantic, or as it glides along deeplyimmersed, when apprehensive of danger, on the placid lake, on the grassyislet of which its nest is placed; calculate, if you can, the speed ofits flight, as it shoots across the sky; mark the many plunges it performsin quest of its finny food, or in eluding its enemies; list to the loudand plaintive notes which it issues, either to announce its safety to itsmate, or to invite some traveller of its race to alight, and find reposeand food; follow the anxious and careful mother-bird, as she leads abouther precious charge; and you will not count your labour lost, for you willhave watched the ways of one of the wondrous creations of unlimited Powerand unerring Wisdom. You will find pleasure too in admiring the glossytints of its head and neck, and the singular regularity of the unnumberedspots by which its dusky back and wings are checkered.

I have met with the Great Diver, in winter, on all the water-coursesof the United States, whence, however, it departs when the cold becomesextreme, and the surface is converted into an impenetrable sheet of ice.I have seen it also along the whole of our Atlantic coast, from Maine tothe extremity of Florida, and from thence to the mouths of the Mississippi,and the shores of Texas, about Galveston Island, where some individualsin the plumage characteristic of the second moult, were observed in themonth of April 1837. Indeed, as is the case with most other species ofmigrating birds, the young remove farther south than the old individuals,which are better able to withstand the cold and tempests of the wintryseason.

The migratory movements of this bird seem to be differently managedin the spring and autumn. In the latter case, a great number of young Loonsare seen to alight on the head waters of our great streams, on which, withoutmuch exertion, being aided by the current, they float along, diving atintervals in pursuit of the numerous fishes, as they proceed toward milderclimes. The few old birds which, at a later date, appear on the same water-courses,frequently take to wing, and shorten their way by flying at a considerableelevation directly across the great bends or peninsulas. These modes oftravelling are also adopted by those which advance along the Atlantic coasts,where, indeed, the birds have the double advantage of meeting with foodand obtaining repose, on the rivers and on the sea. I think, however, thatthis maritime course is followed only by such of the Loons as have bredin the more immediate vicinity of the coast. But whether you are in theinterior, or on the coast, it is seldom that you see at a time more thanone Loon travelling at this season; whereas, in spring, they proceed inpairs, the male taking the lead, as is easily ascertained by observingthat the bird in the rear is the smallest.

Although its wings are rather small, its flight is strong and rapid,so that it is enabled to traverse a large extent of country on wing. Whentravelling, or even when only raised from its nest, it moves through theair with all the swiftness of the other species of its tribe, generallypassing directly from one point to another, however distant it may be.Its long transits are at times performed at so great an elevation, thatits form can scarcely be distinguished, and yet, even then, in calm weather,the noise of its wings striking the air comes distinctly on your ear. Ihave seen them thus, on their way towards Labrador, passing over the headwaters of the Bay of Fundy, to cross the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Wheneverit chances to alight on the water, in the course of its long journeys,it almost immediately dives, as if to taste the water, and judge whetherit contains food suited to its appetite. On emerging, and after havingsomewhat raised the fore part of its body, shaken its wings, and by a strongshiver re-arranged its plumage, it emits its loud echoing call-note, toinduce, perchance, some traveller of its tribe to alight for awhile, thatthey may communicate to each other their experience of the past, or theirhopes of the future. There is an absurd notion, entertained by personsunacquainted with the nature of this bird, that its plaintive cries area sure indication of violent storms. Sailors, in particular, are ever aptto consider these call-notes as portentous. In the course of a voyage fromCharleston to the Florida Keys, in May 1832, I several times saw and heardLoons travelling eastward; but, notwithstanding all the dire forebodingsof the crew, who believed that a hurricane was at hand, our passage wasexceedingly pleasant. Although I have heard the notes of the Loon in rainyand blowy weather, yet I never heard them so frequent or so loud, bothby day and by night, as on the Ohio, during that delightful and peculiarlyAmerican autumnal season called the Indian summer; when, although not somuch as a cloud was seen for weeks, I have frequently observed the passingbirds checking their flight, or heard the murmuring splash which they producedon alighting upon the placid water, to rest and refresh themselves.

Another strange notion, not deserving of credit, although you will findit gravely announced in books, is that, when the Loon is breeding, it willdart down suddenly from the air, and alight securely in its nest. I havenever witnessed such a procedure, although I have closely watched, fromunder cover, at least twenty pairs. On such occasions I have seen the incubatingbird pass over the dear spot several times in succession, gradually roundingand descending so as at last to alight obliquely on the water, which italways did at a considerable distance from the nest, and did not approachit until after glancing around and listening attentively, as if to assureitself that it was not watched, when it would swim to the shore, and resumeits office.

The Loon breeds in various parts of the United States, from Marylandto Maine. I have ascertained that it nestles in the former of these States,on the Susquehanna river, as well as in the districts between Kentuckyand Canada, and on our great lakes. Dr. RICHARDSON states that it is foundbreeding as far north as the 70th degree of latitude. The situation andform of the nest differ according to circumstances. Some of those whichbreed in the State of Maine, place it on the hillocks of weeds and mudprepared by the musk-rat, on the edges of the lakes, or at some distancefrom them among the rushes. Other nests, found on the head-waters of theWabash river, were situated on the mud, amid the rank weeds, more thanten yards from the water. Authors have said that only one pair breed ona lake; but I have found three pairs, with their nests, on a pond not exceedinga quarter of a mile in length, in the State of Maine. One that I saw afterthe young had left it, on Cayuga Lake, in 1824, was almost afloat, andrudely attached to the rushes, more than forty yards from the land, thoughits base was laid on the bottom, the water being eight or nine inches deep.Others examined in Labrador were placed on dry land, several yards fromthe water, and raised to the height of nearly a foot above the decayedmoss on which they were laid. But, in cases when the nest was found atany distance from the water, we discovered a well-beaten path leading toit, and very much resembling those made by the beaver, to which the huntersgive the name of "crawls." The nest, wherever placed, is bulky,and formed of the vegetable substances found in the immediate vicinity,such as fresh or withered grasses and herbaceous plants. The internal part,or the true nest, which is rarely less than a foot, and is sometimes fifteeninches, in diameter, is raised upon the external or inferior mass to theheight of seven or eight inches. Such was one found on the 5th July, 1835,in Labrador, and which was placed within three yards of the edge of a considerablepond of limpid water, supposed to have been produced by the melting ofthe snow, and upwards of a mile distant from the sea. Of the many nestswhich I have examined, I have found more containing three than two eggs,and I am confident that the former number is that which more frequentlyoccurs, although many European, and some American writers, who probablynever saw a nest of this bird, allege the contrary. The eggs average threeinches and three quarters in length, by two inches and a quarter in theirgreatest breadth, and thus are considerably elongated, being particularlynarrowed from the bulge to the smaller end, which is rather pointed. Theyare of a dull greenish-ochry tint, rather indistinctly marked with spotsof dark umber, which are more numerous toward the larger extremity. Theweight of two of these eggs, containing young nearly ready to emerge, wasten ounces and a half. In Maine the Loon lays fully a month earlier thanin Labrador, and about the same period as on the Wabash.

On approaching the female while sitting on her eggs, I assured myselfthat she incubates with her body laid flat upon them, in the same way asthe domestic Duck, and that, on perceiving the intruder, she squats close,and so remains until he is almost over her, when she springs up with greatforce, and makes at once for the water, in a scrambling and sliding manner,pushing herself along the ground. On gaining the water, she dives at once,emerges at a great distance, and very rarely suffers herself to be approachedwithin gunshot. Sometimes they swim so deeply immersed as scarcely to beperceptible, and keep as much as possible among the rushes and other waterplants. When the eggs are on the eve of being hatched, the mother, whendisturbed, often cries loudly and dismally for some time, but seldom fliesoff. At other times, when I found the eggs to have been recently laid,the bird, on reaching the water, and diving, swam lightly, flapping itswings, drank once or twice, and moved about at a respectful distance. Onsuch occasions, should you persist in watching it, it rises on wing andflies off. Should you not mark the spot in which the nest is, but leaveit to go in pursuit of the bird, you may search for hours before findingit, for the path leading from the water to it is generally covered overby the herbage. Once while approaching a spot in which I knew a Loon tobe engaged in forming her nest, I was disappointed at not finding her atwork: her keen sense of hearing had apprised her of my purpose, and cunninglymust she have slipped away, for, on finding her absent, although I hadnot heard any noise, I happened to look toward the water, and there shewas, gliding off in the quiet manner usual on such occasions.

The young of the Loon are covered at birth with a kind of black stiffdown, and in a day or two after are led to the water by their mother. Theyswim and dive extremely well even at this early stage of their existence,and after being fed by regurgitation for about a fortnight, receive portionsof fish, aquatic insects, and small reptiles, until they are able to maintainthemselves. During this period, grey feathers appear among the down ofthe back and belly, and the black quill-feathers of the wings and tailgradually elongate. They are generally very fat, and so clumsy as to beeasily caught on land, if their retreat to the water be cut off. But shouldyou miss your opportunity, and the birds succeed in gaining the liquidelement, into which they drop like so many terrapins, you will be astonishedto see them as it were run over the water with extreme celerity, leavingbehind them a distinct furrow. This power of traversing the surface ofthe water is possessed not only by the young and old of this species, butby all other kinds of swimmers, including even Gallinules and Coots. Whenthe young are well able to fly, the mother entices them to remove fromthe pond or lake on which they have been bred, and leads them on wing tothe nearest part of the sea, after which she leaves them to shift for themselves.Now and then, after this period, the end of August or beginning of September,I have still seen the young of a brood, two or three in number, continuingtogether until they were induced to travel southward, when they generallyset out singly.

Having given you a figure of a young bird, taken in October 1819 froma specimen obtained on the Ohio, I will not here trouble you with its description,but merely state that the young undergo their first moult in December,when they are seen singularly patched with portions of new plumage beautifullyspeckled with white, on a bed of almost uniform ash-brown. I was told,while in the State of Maine, that if the young were caught soon after beinghatched, and before they had been in the water, they would, if thrown intoit, immediately follow a paddled canoe anywhere; but, as I have not myselfmade the experiment, I cannot speak of this as a fact.

Although it has been generally asserted that Loons cannot walk or runin an efficient manner, I feel assured that on emergency the case is verydifferent. An instance which occurred to my youngest son, JOHN WOODHOUSE,who accompanied me to Labrador, may here be related. One day, when he wasin pursuit of some King Ducks, a Loon chanced to fly immediately over himwithin shooting-distance of his enormous double-barrelled gun. The momentwas propitious, and on firing he was glad to see the bird fall broken-wingedon the bare granitic rocks. As if perfectly aware of its danger, it immediatelyrose erect on its feet, and inclining its body slightly forward, ran on,stumbled, rose again, and getting along in this manner actually reachedthe water before my son, who is by no means slow of foot. The space traversedwas fully a hundred yards, and the water to an equal distance was not morethan ankle-deep. The bird and its pursuer ran swiftly through the water,and just as both reached a sudden break about four feet in depth, the Loon,which had been wounded elsewhere than in the wing, expired and floatedat the disposal of its enemy, who brought it on board the Ripley; whenI entered this anecdote in my journal.

These birds are so very strong and hardy that some of the old ones remainin Maine and Massachusetts until all the fresh waters are frozen, firstleaving the quiet lakes and ponds, then the slow streams, and lastly theturbulent pools below waterfalls, which latter they do not quit until theyare overhung by icicles and deserted of fish. On the other hand, this speciesreturns northward at a later period than most others that breed in highlatitudes. I have witnessed the arrival of some on the coast of Labrador,after they had crossed the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as late as the 20th ofJune, after which they had scarcely four months to seek out a breedingplace, lay their eggs, hatch and rear their young, and with them removesouthward, before the rigour of winter commenced.

The Great Northern Diver is a heavy-bodied bird, and generally swimsrather deep in the water, more especially if apprehensive of immediatedanger, when scarcely more than two inches in height of its back can beseen above the surface. As its body is more flattened than that of theCormorant, this circumstance might seem to favour the action in question;but other species less depressed exhibit the same peculiarity; and I havethought that in all of these the internal structure alone can account forthis peculiar faculty.

With the exception of that most expert of all Divers, the Anhinga, andthe Great Auk, the Loon is perhaps the most accomplished. Whether it befishing in deep water amid rolling billows, or engaged in eluding its foes,it disappears beneath the surface so suddenly, remains so long in the water,and rises at so extraordinary a distance, often in a direction quite thereverse of that supposed to be followed by it, that your eyes become weariedin searching for it, and you renounce the wish of procuring it out of sheervexation. At least, this has very frequently happened to me; nay, I haveat times abandoned the chase when the bird was so severely wounded as tobe obliged to dive immediately beside my boat, and had it not died of exhaustionand floated near enough to be seized by me, I felt as if I could not havepulled my oars any longer, and was willing to admit that I was outdoneby a Loon.

In Labrador, where these birds were abundant, my son JOHN one day shotat one on wing, which fell upon the water to appearance quite dead, andremained on its back motionless until we had leisurely rowed to it, whena sailor put out his hand to take it up. The Loon, however, to our surprise,suddenly sprung up, and dived, and while we stood amazed, watching itsappearance, we saw it come up at the distance of about a hundred yards,shake its head, and disgorge a quantity of fish mixed with blood; on whichit dived again, and seemed lost to us. We rowed however to the spot inall haste, and the moment it rose, sent another shot after it, which terminatedits career. On examining it afterwards, we found it quite riddled by theheavy shot.

If ever so slightly wounded, the Loon prefers diving to flying off,and all your endeavours to kill it are almost sure to prove unavailing.You may shoot at it under such circumstances, but you will lose both yourtime and your ammunition. Its keenness of sight defies the best percussion-lockedgun, for it is generally deep in the water before the shot reaches thespot where it has been. When fatigued with diving in the ordinary manner,it will sink backwards, like a grebe or a frog, make for some concealedspot among the rushes, and there lie until your eyes ache with searching,and your stomach admonishes you of the propriety of retiring.

Loons are now and then caught in fishermen’s nets, and are soon drowned.I have also caught them with hooks fastened to lines laid across the Ohio,but on no such occasion have I taken the bird alive. A method of shootingthese birds, which I have often practised, and which was several timessuccessfully employed by our Labrador party, may here be related. On seeinga Loon on the water, at whatever distance, the sportsman immediately placeshimself under the nearest cover on the shore, and remains there as carefullyconcealed as possible. A few minutes are allowed to pass, to give the waryand sharp-sighted bird all due confidence; during which time the gun, chargedwith large shot, is laid in a convenient position. The gunner then takeshis cap or pocket-handkerchief, which if brightly coloured is so much thebetter, and raising it in one hand, waves it three or four times, and thensuddenly conceals it. The bird commonly detects the signal at once, and,probably imagining the object thus exhibited to be one of its own species,gradually advances, emitting its love-notes, which resemble a coarse laugh,as it proceeds. The sportsman imitates these notes, making them loud andyet somewhat mellow, waving his cap or kerchief at the same time, and thishe continues to do at intervals. The Loon, in order to arrive more quickly,dives, perhaps rises within fifty yards of him, and calling less loudly,advances with considerable caution. He shews the signal less frequently,imitates the notes of the bird more faintly, and carefully keeps himselfconcealed, until the Loon, having approached within twenty or even tenpaces, dives, and on emerging raises itself up to shake its wings, whenoff goes the shot, and the deluded bird floats dead on the water. Manyspecies of Ducks are procured in nearly the same manner. The male Turkey,in the gobbling season, and the stag in autumn, may also be drawn withinshot by the same means. I once "tolled" two Loons with my hatfrom a distance of nearly half a mile, and although they were at one timeso near to me that I could clearly perceive the colour of their eyes, Ihad no sure opportunity of firing at them, as it was in the pairing season,and they never once dived, or raised their wings to flap them, so that,knowing the extreme agility with which they disappear when they have hearda gun snap, I judged it useless to shoot. Until my visit to Labrador Ihad supposed, agreeably to the common belief, that the Loons always reposeat night on the water, which, however, I have since assured myself theyrarely if ever do.

Colonel MONTAGU, than whom none has written more correctly on the habitsof the birds of Great Britain, having procured a wounded Loon, placed itin a pond, and observed the manner in which it made its way under the surfaceof the water. "In swimming and diving," he remarks, "onlythe legs are used and not the wings, as in the Guillemot and Auk tribes,and by their position so far behind, and their little deviation from theline of the body, the bird is enabled to propel itself in the water withgreat velocity, in a straight line, as well as turn with astonishing quickness."This I have no doubt was the case with the individual observed; but thatthis is not the usual mode of proceeding of the species is equally true.Having myself seen Loons pass and repass under boats, at the distance ofseveral feet from the surface, and propel themselves both with their feet,and their half-extended wings, I am inclined to believe that when not wounded,and when pursuing their prey, they usually employ all the limbs.

My friend THOMAS NUTTALL, who kept one for some time, gives the followingaccount of its manners while in his possession. "A young bird of thiskind which I obtained in the Salt Marsh at Chelsea Beach, and transferredto a fish-pond, made a good deal of plaint, and would sometimes wanderout of his more natural element, and hide and bask in the grass. On theseoccasions he lay very still until nearly approached, and then slid intothe pond and uttered his usual plaint. When out at a distance he made thesame cautious efforts to hide, and would commonly defend himself in greatanger, by darting at the intruder, and striking powerfully with his dagger-likebill. This bird, with a pink-coloured iris, like albinos, appeared to sufferfrom the glare of broad day-light, and was inclined to hide from its effects,but became very active towards the dusk of the evening. The pupil of theeye in this individual, like that of nocturnal animals, appeared indeeddilatable; and the one in question often put down his head and eyes intothe water to observe the situation of his prey. This bird was a most expertand indefatigable diver, and remained down sometimes for several minutes,often swimming under water, and as it were flying with the velocity ofan arrow in the air. Though at length inclining to become docile, and shewingno alarm when visited, it constantly betrayed its wandering habits, andevery night was found to have waddled to some hiding place, where it seemedto prefer hunger to the loss of liberty, and never could be restrainedfrom exercising its instinct to move onwards to some secure or more suitableasylum."

The same valued friend has corroborated the result of my observationsrespecting the number of eggs usually laid by this species, by statingas follows: "About the 11th of June, through the kindness of Dr. J.W. HARRIS, I received three eggs, which had been taken from the nest ofa Loon, made in a hummock, or elevated grassy hillock, at Sebago Pond,in New Hampshire."

The range of this species is immense. It occurs on the waters that fallinto the Pacific Ocean, and has been observed on the Columbia river. Inthe Fur Countries it is plentiful; and, as I have already stated, it breedsin many parts of the United States. It is found equally in Europe, andthe northern parts of Asia. In all these countries it moves southward onthe approach of winter, and returns when the mild weather commences inspring.

Unlike the Cormorant, the Loon usually swallows its food under the water,unless when it happens to bring up a shell-fish or a crustaceous animal,which it munches for awhile before it swallows it. Fishes of numerous kinds,aquatic insects, water-lizards, frogs, and leeches, have been found byme in its stomach, in which there is also generally much coarse gravel,and sometimes the roots of fresh-water plants.

Although the flesh of the Loon is not very palatable, being tough, rank,and dark coloured, I have seen it much relished by many lovers of good-living,especially at Boston, where it was not unfrequently served almost raw atthe table of the house where I boarded.

A female bird particularly examined by me presented the following appearances.From the point of the bill to the end of the tail it measured 34 inches;to the claws 41; the extended wings were 71; the bill measured 5 inchesalong the gap; the breadth of the body was 8 inches, its depth only four;the wings were 2 inches shorter than the tail; and the weight was 10 lbs.11 oz. avoirdupois. The first primary was longest. The trachea, which waseven and flattened, being in diameter about 5/8 of an inch by 1/2 inch,was 16 inches long. The eggs were numerous. The gizzard was moderate, andcontained many large pebbles. The intestines were 7 feet long, and aboutthe same size as a Swan’s quill. Every bone and sinew was strong and tough.The tongue resembled in shape and size that of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.The bones of the wing and leg were almost solid, the cavity for the marrowbeing very small. All the bones of this specimen were presented to Mr.THOMAS ALLIS, of the Friends’ Retreat, near York.

My friend Captain JAMES CLARK ROSS, of the Royal Navy of England, onceplaced at my disposal a specimen of the Loon procured in a very high latitude,and which, having closely inspected it, I found to differ from the onerepresented in the plate, only in having the point of the bill slightlyelevated or recurved, and of a fine yellow tint. Dr. RICHARDSON informedme that, on one of his arduous northern journeys, he saw a very large andhandsomely crested Diver, which, although somewhat prematurely, I proposehonouring with the name of Colymbus Richardsoni.

GREAT NORTHERN DIVER or LOON, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ix.
COLYMBUS GLACIALIS, Bonap. Syn., p. 420.
COLYMBUS GLACIALIS, Great Northern Diver, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol.ii. p. 474.
LOON or GREAT NORTHERN DIVER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 513.

GREAT NORTHERN DIVER or LOON, Colymbus glacialis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol.iv.p. 43.

Adult, 32 7/8, 57 1/2. Young Male, in winter, 31 1/4, 54 1/2.

During winter dispersed over the United States, in Texas, as well asalong the coasts of the Atlantic, and the north-west. Breeds from Massachusettsnorthward to very high latitudes. Common.

Adult Male.

Bill as long as the head, straight, stout, much compressed, taperingto a point. Upper mandible with the dorsal line descending and slightlyconvex towards the end, the ridge convex, narrowed towards the point, thesides convex beyond the nostrils, the edges sharp and considerably inflected,the tip narrow and sharpish. Nasal groove short, nostrils basal, linear,direct, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle extremely narrow, and extendingbeyond the middle, the dorsal line straight and sloping upwards to thepoint, the ridge convex and narrow, the edges sharp and involute; the tipattenuated.

Head of moderate size, oblong, narrowed before. Neck rather long andthick. Eyes of moderate size. Body elongated, much depressed, of an ellipticalform viewed from above. Wings small. Feet short, rather large, placed veryfar back; tibia almost entirely concealed; tarsus short, exceedingly compressed,sharp-edged before and behind, covered all over with reticulated angularscales; hind toe extremely small, connected with the second by a very smallmembrane; the anterior toes united by articulated membranes, the fourthor outer longest, the third a little shorter, the second considerably shorterthan the third, all covered above with very numerous narrow scutella, thesecond toe with a free two-lobed membrane; claws very small, depressed,blunt.

Plumage short and dense; of the head and neck very short, and blended;of the lower parts blended, short, with slight gloss; of the upper compact,glossy; the feathers in general oblong, those of the upper parts with theextremity abrupt. Wings proportionally very small and narrow, curved; primariesstrong, tapering, the first longest, the second almost as long, the restrapidly graduated; secondaries broad, and rounded. Tail extremely short,rounded, of twenty feathers.

Bill black. Iris deep bright red. Feet, tarsi, and toes, of a lividgreyish-blue, their inner sides tinged with pale yellowish flesh-colour;claws black, lighter at the base; webs brownish-black, lighter in the middle.Head and neck dark greenish-blue, with purple reflections. On the throata small transverse patch of white, longitudinally striated with dusky;about the middle of the neck, two large patches of the same, separatedin front to the distance of an inch, behind continuous, but when the feathersare laid close, appearing as if separated by a longitudinal dark band abouthalf an inch in breadth. The under parts glossy white, excepting the featherson the sides under the wing, which are black, each with two, three, orfour elliptical white spots, a faint dusky band across the vent, the lowertail-coverts, which are brownish-black tipped with white, and the axillarfeathers and larger wing-coverts, which have a dusky streak along the middle.The sides of the neck at its lower part are longitudinally streaked withblack and white, there being two oblong spots of the latter on each feathertowards the end. The upper parts are glossy black, variegated with spotsof white in regular transverse slightly-curved lines having the convexitybackwards. These spots vary in form and size, being small and roundishtowards the neck and sides, larger and somewhat four-sided along the middleof the back: largest and rectangular on the scapulars, very small and roundishon the hind part of the back and tail-coverts. The upper part of the wingis similar, with smallish spots; the alula and quill brownish-black, afew of the inner secondaries only having two white spots at their extremity.Tail brownish-black, paler at the tip. Adult Male. Adult Male. Young.

Length to the end of tail, . . . 32 7/8 36 31 1/4

Length to the end of claws, . . . 39 1/4 40 1/2 36

Length to the end of wings, . . . 31 1/4 — 29 3/4

Length to the end of carpal joint,. 16 3/4 — 16 1/4

Extent of wings, . . . . . . 57 1/2 52 54 1/2

Wing from flexure, . . . . . . 15 1/2 — 14 1/4

Depth of body, . . . . . . . — 6 —

Breadth, . . . . . . . . . — 9 1/2 —

Bill along the ridge, . . . . . — 3 4/12 —

Gap-line, . . . . . . . . . — 4 1/2 —

Tarsus, . . . . . . . . . — 3 3/12 —

Hind toe, . . . . . . . . . — 9 1/2 —

Its claw, . . . . . . . . . — 2/12 —

Outer toe and claw, . . . . . — 4 1/2 —

Middle toe, . . . . . . . . — 4 1/4 —

Inner toe, . . . . . . . . — 3 9/12 —

Tail, . . . . . . . . . . — 29 1/12 —

Wing from flexure, . . . . . . — 14 1/2 — Weight, . . . . . . 8 3/48 1/2 9

The female is generally smaller, but in all other respects resemblesthe male. Weight 10 lbs. 11 oz.

Young in winter.

Bill pale yellowish-green, the ridge and tip of the upper mandible dusky.Iris brown. Feet dusky externally, pale yellowish flesh-colour internally,webs dusky, but yellow in the middle. Claws yellowish-brown. All the upperparts are of a uniform dark greyish-brown, each feather margined with lighter,the lower parts white; the sides of the neck at the lower part whitish,streaked with dusky; the sides dusky, without spots.

Towards spring the eye assumes a redder tint, and the plumage of theupper parts gradually becomes spotted with white; and when the moult iscompleted about the end of summer, the plumage is as in the adult, althoughthe tints are improved at each successive moult for several years.

A fine male killed at Boston, 34 inches in length, with an alar extentof 56, presents the following characters. There is a general layer of subcutaneousadipose tissue, and the skin is very tenacious. The external aperture ofthe ear roundish, very small, having a diameter of only 2 lines. The tongueis 2 inches 1 line in length, fleshy, as high as broad, slightly concaveand longitudinally grooved above, tapering to a horny point. On the palateare 6 rows of papillae; the posterior aperture of the nares is linear,2 1/2 inches in length. The aperture of the glottis is 1/2 an inch long,with numerous papillae along its sides and behind. The pharynx is extremelydilatable, as is the oesophagus, which is 17 inches long, passes alongthe right side of the neck, together with the trachea, and when distendedhas an average diameter of 2 1/2 inches, but on entering the thorax contractsto 1 1/2. The structure of the oesophagus in birds may be very convenientlyexamined in this species, the different layers being remarkably developedin it. Properly speaking, it has only two coats,–the outer muscular, itsexternal layer composed of transverse or circular fibres, the internalof equally distinct longitudinal fibres, which are not straight, but irregularlyundulated. The inner, or mucous coat, when contracted falls into longitudinalplaits. The proventriculus is 2 3/4 inches long, the glandules large, roundish,simple, and disposed in a continuous belt. Over this part, the transversemuscular fibres are remarkably developed. The right lobe of the liver is5 3/4 inches long, the left lobe 5 1/2. The heart is very large, of a broadlyconical form, 3 inches long, 2 3/4 inches in breadth. The stomach is threeinches long, 2 1/2 in breadth, of an elliptical form, a little compressed;its lateral muscles 9 lines in thickness, and composed of strong largefasciculi; the tendons 1 1/2 inches in diameter; the cuticular lining thick,its upper and lower parts marked with strong longitudinal ridges havingnumerous transverse fissures; the grinding surfaces irregularly wrinkled,with a deep fissure down the middle of each. The pylorus is 8 lines indiameter when distended, and is destitute of valve, but has a strong prominentrim. In the stomach were remains of fishes, and some pebbles, chiefly quartz,the largest 4 lines long. The intestine measures 6 feet 6 inches in length,and varies in diameter from 8 to 6 lines. The rectum is 3 1/2 inches long,the cloaca extremely large, forming a cavity about 3 inches in diameter.The coeca are 1 3/4 inches long, cylindrical, rounded at the extremity;one of them 7 lines, the other 9 lines, in diameter.

The trachea, when moderately extended, measures 13 1/2 inches in length,inconsiderably depressed, its transverse diameter at the upper part 9 1/2lines, at the lower 6 1/2 lines; the rings cartilaginous, of moderate breadth,uniform, with a contraction in the middle before and behind, their number134, the four lowest united. The bronchi are composed of about 20 narrowcartilaginous half rings. The contractor muscles are very broad, but thin,their fibres irregularly disposed in front; they become thicker and narrowertoward the lower part, and are continued beyond the sterno-tracheal muscles,which come off from the 20th ring from the inferior larynx, to the membranebetween the last tracheal and first bronchial ring.

Portions copyright © Richard R. Buonanno, 1995
Web version of John James Audubon’s work. “The Birds of America”
Portions copyright © Creative Multimedia Corp., 1990-91, 1992
Published with permisson by Marchex, Inc